It did not come as a great surprise to Lily that no one believed her. All her life she had possessed the imagination of a dreamer, like a girl that did not belong in this world, but rather one who saw her surroundings through different glasses.
September came, and with it came James' departure for Hogwarts.
"Try not to miss me too much," he said with a confident grin as he stood by the scarlet train. Then he turned a pair of hazel eyes to Lily and winked with the left one. "Say bye to Marcus for me, will you?"
This comment made Albus snicker, despite the fact that he was positively devastated that he was losing his best friend and partner in crime.
The taunt almost earned James a whack to the head from his mother, Ginny, who had had quite enough of the jibes directed at her only daughter over the course of the summer. James dodged the slap by jumping onto the train just before the doors slid shut, separating a grinning James from his family for the first time.
"Did you go to Hogwarts?" Lily asked Marcus that night. She was sitting on her bed as usual, dressed in her purple nightgown, wide awake despite the late hour. She was talking in a low voice, so as not to wake her parents and cause them to demand her immediate resignation to sleep as they had done so many times before.
Marcus nodded, somewhat hesitantly, as though he was afraid to commit to his own answer. "Yes." he said finally. "Yes, I did. But it was a long time ago."
"You don't remember it?"
Marcus' handsome face darkened. "Oh, I remember." he said, but he left the conversation at that. Unprepared Lily saw him dissolve before her very eyes, and a second later the door to her room banged open to admit Harry, looking exasperated to see Lily sitting in bed with the lamp on her night-stand lit and the expression of being caught in the act upon her winsome, freckled features.
"Go to bed, Lily." Harry said, shutting off the light after giving her one last, bespectacled look that clearly told his daughter that he would not appreciate having to repeat the message.
The next four years passed by in a rush of memories. Lily spent the nights chatting to Marcus, while during the days she was kept company by the much more solid Tom, who soon became like a constant attachment to the Potter household. Having grown up with his ancient grandparents and his dog as his only play-mates, the sudden presence of Lily and her family was a blessing to the young boy.
However, no habits last forever.
Tom frowned, scrunching up his freckly button-nose. "Where are you going, again?"
The sun warmed their bodies as they lay outstretched, side by side, by the little creek running next to the field that separated their houses. Max, the dog, was running around them, chasing butterflies. It was the last summer before Lily's departure to Hogwarts, and she had grown into a charming young lady, prepossessing in her own way. She had long, sleek locks of bright red hair, big chocolate eyes, slender and delicate limbs and a sweet air that seemed to surround her and enchant everyone that came close to her.
At the sound of Tom's still childishly light voice she turned her head around upon the pillow of grass to look at his sunlit face. The summer made him unnaturally freckled, and more tan than Lily had ever hoped to become. He hadn't changed much in the course of the four years that had passed since she had met him. He was still Tom, tough Tom, Tom with the messy, straw-colored hair and the dirty fingernails.
"Boarding school." Lily replied serenely, looking down at the creek. The day was wind-still, and the water barely rippling. Lily hated to lie, but in this case she knew it was necessary. She knew it was for the best. She had come close to reveal her deepest secret to Tom many times over the years that had passed since she had first met him, and each time the truth had been narrowly distorted by either Harry or Ginny.
Tom looked rather glum, and sighed dramatically. "So I won't see you until next summer?"
It seemed like an eternity away. "I'll come back for Christmas." Lily said quickly. "And spring break."
Tom nodded, but continued to look darker than he used to.
Tom was not the only person affected by Lily's approaching disappearance. Though he was unwilling to admit it, Lily had noticed a definite change in Marcus' behavior during her last few weeks at home. Always a man of few word, Marcus had seemed even more quiet lately, and though he still appeared every night after Harry and Ginny had hit the lights he had less and less to say to Lily. It almost seemed like he tried to distance himself from her even before she had left.
"I'll miss you," Lily told him one night, as he stood by her window, the moonlight shining right through his slender, transparent frame.
Marcus looked over at her, and his dark eyes met hers in a silent understanding that told her that he felt the same way, even if he would not say it to her.
"Can I ask you something?" Lily asked her spectral friend, cocking her head to the side. "How old are you?"
"How old am I really, or how old was I when I died?" Marcus replied solemnly, looking back out the window again.
Lily seemed to consider the two possible questions for a while. "How old were you when you died?" she asked him finally, after surveying his silvery profile in the moonlight for a second.
He was extremely handsome, the kind of youth that could easily be plastered all over the wall of a teenage girl's bedroom if he had achieved stardom before his premature death. His eyes and hair were dark as night, and his pearly, pale skin was flawless. His cheekbones were prominent in his angelic face, his lips rarely smiled to reveal a perfect row of teeth, his build was tall, slender and just a tad muscular. An almost overwhelming air of mystique surrounded him, though wether or not the aura possessed him before or after his death remained unknown to Lily. He could be in his latest teens, yet he could also be in his early twenties. In the monochromatic light it was hard to judge his age for certain.
"Nineteen." Marcus said, in a hollowed voice. "I was nineteen, at the time of my death."
And that was all there was to say about that. Marcus turned his gaze back to the moon, and Lily did not pursue the topic, partly because she found it creepy, but mostly because Marcus seemed unwilling to discuss his seizure to exist in the world of the living.
It was a close call, the title of Lily's best friend.
Tom was fun, Tom was childhood impersonated. Tom was laughter and endless days underneath the sun, strawberry-hunting and hide-and-seek in a world of wildflowers.
Marcus, on the other hand, was late-night conversations in the moonlight, he was seriousness, he was mystique and intrigue and everything that was forbidden, everything that made Lily's heart pound as she lay awake and listened to his soft voice speaking into the darkness, telling her of another world that was different from her and Tom's.
Lily loved the two equally, in each their way, and she knew she would miss both dearly when she went away. Nevertheless, there was no denying the rush of young blood as she stepped up to Platform 9 3/4 on September 1, next to a trolley on which sat a snowy white owl that her parents had bought her as a going-away present and a secret hint that they would like to stay in touch with her after she was gone.
That night, when all three of their children had departed the house, Ginny and Harry lay close together under the velvety sheets of their bed. Through the darkness Harry heard his wife's voice.
"I hope she'll fit in."
Harry nodded, and though Ginny could not see the gesture she felt the covers moving with every jerk of his head. "She's been doing better lately." He said after several seconds of silence. "I mean, she's had Tom..."
"But she's also been talking about her imaginary friend."
Harry bit his lip. "Well," he said, in an obvious lack of arguments for this latest statement. "I mean, it's normal for children..."
"She's eleven." Ginny groaned. "Usually kids get over that phase by their sixth birthday."
"Look at Luna." Harry said, with a small laugh. "She stayed in that phase through her entire time at Hogwarts, and she had some great friends, didn't she? And look at her now!"
Luna had made success as an imaginative author of fantasy books full of nargles, crumple-horned snorcacs and talking gurdyroots. Her fairytales had become immensely popular, only second to the classic 'Tales of Beedle the Bard'.
There was a pressing silence in the bedroom, and just when Harry thought Ginny had fallen asleep he heard her voice again. "I read her diary."
Harry frowned. "Lily's?"
This time it was Ginny's turn to make the sheets move in harmony with her nods. "The pages are full of Marcus' name."
In Lily's room, across the hallway, Marcus sat by the window in solitude for the first night in over four years. The room seemed cold, even though the summer was warm and clammy. Ghosts were, however, unaffected by both temperature and seasonal humidity. They were warmed by other thing, by gentle voices, by kindness and company.
There were none of that left now, and Marcus was freezing in his loneliness. He had forgotten how cold and empty his prison-cell was without Lily's now beloved presence.
Looking up at the starless sky he realized that he felt even more desolate than he had before the Potters had moved into the manor, and he closed his eyes, having not understood before now that it was even possible to feel this way.
He sat himself down in the sill of the window and asked himself what he felt for Lily. Who was Lily Luna Potter? How was it possible to make him feel like this, like he had lost something even when he had nothing to lose.
Then one, single, muffled sob escaped him into the dark room. "Anna," the ghostly teenager whispered, into the blackness of the deserted bedroom. "Where are you?"